Posted: Feb 27, 2013 5:58 PM by Janine Reyes
Updated: Feb 27, 2013 11:53 PM
CORPUS CHRISTI - We've all done it before, handed over a few bucks or some change to a charity that's collecting for a cause. But do you know where your money is really going and how its helping?
One woman tells 6 News that her personal experience with a local charity that led her to question it's validity.
"She told me she was collecting up to $400 a day," Sharon Roggy said, "so, figure that a weekend, $800."
She wanted to get involved with a local charity and Down Syndrome and Families sounded like a perfectly good cause, until Roggy says she realized the foundation doesn't help anyone with Down Syndrome.
"Are you aware of anyone else that she's helped with any of the money that she's raised, anyone," we asked. "I never heard a word," Roggy said.
The founder for Down Syndrome and Families is Tabetha Zimmerman. We found pictures on her Facebook page of her collecting outside Walgreens. Roggy says Zimmerman did this every weekend at Gattitown and Walgreens.
She even has a website set up to collect donations, registered to her gmail account.
We went to the address listed on the foundation's Facebook page and found Southern Star Graphics. The address was later removed from the page.
Southern Star Graphics is owned by Tony Adams, who, according to the Down Syndrome and Families business card, serves as Senior Board Member. He's the only board member we're aware of.
The problem is, according to the Secretary of State website, the Texas Business Organizations code requires a non profit to have at least 3 directors, one president and one secretary.
When we first met Zimmerman, she claimed to be the only person running the foundation. "Of course, there's only just me as part of the foundation," she told us.
The foundation's website has undergone some changes since we first started looking into Roggy's claims.
Initially, when we typed in the URL, we had difficulty finding her page. We brought that to Zimmerman's attention, and she also had problems accessing her site. But, the very next day, it worked.
That's when we found a bio on Zimmerman on the site that claimed she worked full time for Down Syndrome and Families.
A week later, she came to the station with her boss and board member, Tony Adams, to talk about her foundation. She claimed to work full time for him at Southern Star Graphics. That's when her bio changed, it now states Tabbie dedicates her free time to Down Syndrome and Families.
But those aren't the only questions we had about Down Syndrome and Families.
We wanted to know exactly what they do to help local children with Down Syndrome. Local agencies such as United Way and the Aging and Disability Resource Center never heard of the group. They usually connect people in need with resources that can help.
Zimmerman couldn't put us in touch with even one family she's helped. She tells us she finds families in need at her collection sites, Gattitown and Walgreens. But, Zimmerman says all of them are too ashamed to go on camera or even talk with us.
She did tell us about one family she helped, a boy from San Antonio. "We actually got that family... he needed shoes," Zimmerman said, "he needed, what do you call them," she asked. "Orth, orth, orthopedic, orthopedics, is that what they are," she questioned. "The inserts, she said," he needed them so we got them."
She gave us details about another. "We've done school supplies for one family, including clothes and things like that, what did we do for the other one? Was it medicine? Yeah, the drops for the asthma machine, the drops," Zimmerman said.
She says she'd like to build a park, hold a walk in February or March, help with research and start a support group, but there are no plans in place for that yet.
Zimmerman says she simply gives support to families who need it. "What gives you the knowledge, or how are you able to help guide these people," we asked her. "My fiance has a son that's Down Syndrome," said Zimmerman. That is true, but the boy lives in the Rio Grande Valley with his mother.
Roggy she spent weeks with Zimmerman and her fiance, but never once saw the boy. "Have you ever seen him with them," we asked her. "Never, never, never," she replied. "Never seen them together," Roggy said.
That's not all that bothers Roggy, she once helped collect for the foundation. She says Zimmerman told her she only collected $40, and she paid her every last dime. "So the one day that you did work for her, she gave you $40," we asked. "She gave me $40," Roggy said. "Cash," we asked. "Cash," Roggy affirmed. "She didn't put you on payroll, she didn't have any taxes taken out, she just said, here's your cut for the day," we asked. "Yup," responded Roggy.
Non profits are allowed to pay. According to the Secretary of State, "any corporation may pay reasonable compensation for services rendered." What bothered Roggy is Zimmerman told her she gave her every dime she collected.
"I felt guilty," said Roggy, "I don't know how she does it and don't feel guilty. I felt guilty over $40. I don't understand. I sat there and I told people hey I'm collecting money for these children that aren't okay, and then I go and spend it on myself," said Roggy as she got emotional. She felt so bad, she later gave $40 to her church.
We did ask Zimmerman to share her financial documents, she declined. "Have you spent it all, do you have it in reserve still," we asked her. "There's very little in reserve, but there is some in reserve," said Zimmerman.
Financial documents are only required for public viewing if a charity raises more than $10,000 a year. The problem is, there's no way to verify just how much Zimmerman's collected.
What you need to know before you donate another dollar to a charity is that it's surprisingly simple to open a non-profit with the Secretary of State. Down Syndrome and Families filled out just a 3 page document, in it, Down Syndrome is misspelled and the business is registered at an apartment complex. The foundation is not a 501(c)(3), so your donations are not deductible and the funds are not scrutinized by the IRS.
The only way, then, that the funds are monitored is through the board, remember, the only board member we're aware of is Tony Adams, who did not talk on camera about this story.
One way to look into a charity before you donate is to see if they're registered on GuideStar, it is a public charity that allows for transparency in foundations with a 501(c)(3) status.
Do you have a tip, information about a breaking news story, or a story idea for 6 Investigates? Contact the KRIS 6 News Desk at 361-884-6666 or send us an email.
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